The End

A neighbor saw the flash and heard the shot go off; but when everything stayed quiet afterwards, he didn’t think anything more of it.

In the morning, around 6, the bellboy knocks on the door; it’s unlocked, he walks in. He finds Werther on the floor, the guns and blood. He shouts, he shakes him; no answer, just the death rattle. The concierge calls 911 and then Albert’s house. Lotte hears the phone ring, her whole body starts to shake. She wakes up her husband, they get up, the concierge tells them the news, bawling and stuttering, Lotte collapses in front of Albert, unconscious.

When the ambulance arrived for him, they found him on the floor, past saving, his pulse was beating, his limbs were all paralyzed. He’d shot himself above the right eye, the skull was blasted open. They hooked him up to oxygen, he was still breathing.

From the blood on the armrest of the chair, it was clear he did it sitting in front of his desk, then sank down and convulsively twisted around on the chair. He was lying helpless with his back against the window, fully dressed, with his shoes on, in a blue jacket and yellow jeans.

The hotel, the neighborhood, the whole town was turned upside-down. Albert came in. They’d laid Werther on the bed, with his head bandaged, his face already like a corpse’s, he wasn’t moving a muscle. His lungs were still rattling violently, weakly now, then stronger; he was close to the end.

He’d only drunk a single glass of the wine. The Great Gatsby was open on his desk.

I’m going to pass over Albert’s devastation and Lotte’s grief.

The old D.A. came running in when he heard the news, he kissed the dying man, crying hot tears. His oldest sons followed him on foot soon after, they collapsed beside the bed with frenzied, painful screams until he was gone and people tore the boys away. Around 12 noon, he died. The presence of the D.A. and his assistants prevented a scene. At night, around 11, he had him buried at the spot he’d chosen. The old man followed the corpse along with his sons, Albert just couldn’t. Lotte had been rushed to the hospital. Farmhands carried him. No priest went with him.

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Goodbye

“11:06 pm —
Everything’s so quiet around me here, and my soul is so peaceful. Thank you, God, for giving these final moments this warmth, this strength.

I walk to the window, darling, and look out, and I see, even through the stormy clouds flying by above, a single star in the eternal sky! No, stars, you’ll never fall! The Eternal carries you on his heart, and me, too. I see the handle of the Big Dipper, my favorite constellation. When I left your place at night, when I’d walk out your door, it sat right in front of me. I looked at it so many times so drunk on happiness, so many times I raised my hands to it and hailed it as a sign, a sacred landmark of my ecstasy in that moment! And now — oh, Lotte, what doesn’t remind me of you? Like you don’t surround me! And like I haven’t hoarded everything you’ve touched, you saint, like a little kid!

And that dear silhouette I sketched of you! I’m bequeathing it back to you, Lotte, and I hope you’ll treasure it. I pressed a thousand, thousand kisses on it, waved hello to it a thousand times when I went out or came home.

I’ve asked your father in a letter to look after my body. In the cemetery, there are two linden trees, back in the corner beside the field: that’s where I want to lie. He can — he will do that for his friend. You ask him too. I don’t totally believe pious Christians will want to lay their bodies near a poor fuckup. Ah, I wish you’d bury me beside the road, or in a lonely valley, for priests and pilgrims to cross themselves before as they walk by the gravestone and shed a tear.

Okay, Lotte! I’m not shaking, grasping the cold, fearsome cup from which I’ll drink the dew of death! You handed it to me, and I’m not shaking. All — all — this way all the wishes and hopes of my life are fulfilled! So cold, so bleak, knocking at the iron door of death…

I wish I could have had the privilege of dying for you! Lotte, of sacrificing myself for you! I wanted to to die bravely, to die happily, giving you back the peace, the contentment of your life. But ahh! Only a few noble souls have had the privilege of spilling their blood for their loved ones and through their death forging a new, happier life for their friends.

I want to be buried in these clothes, Lotte, you touched them, you blessed them; I’ve also begged your father for that. My soul is hovering over the coffin. Don’t let anyone go through my pockets. This pink wrap you had around your shoulders the first time I met you among your children — oh kiss them a thousand times and tell them the story of your friend the fuckup. Those precious kids! They’re flittering around me. God, the way I locked onto you! From the first moment, couldn’t leave you! — I want this wrap buried with me. You gave it to me on my birthday! I just drank it all up! — ahh, I had no idea that path would lead me here! — don’t be upset, please, don’t be upset!

— They’re loaded — it’s striking midnight! All right, then! — Lotte! Lotte, goodbye! Goodbye!”

Guns

Lotte had barely slept the night before, dreading the thing that had in fact been planned, planned in a way she couldn’t have imagined or feared. Her mind, usually so clear and light, was churning with anxiety; her heart felt like it was going to burst from the thousand feelings pounding through it. Was it the fire of Werther’s embrace that she felt in her chest? Was it resentment over his disobedience? Was it an angry sense of how far her life now had gotten from those days when she felt so unselfconsciously free and innocent, so carefree and self-reliant? How was she supposed to go up to her husband and let him know about this scene that she really should confess to him but that she was too scared to confess? They’d both kept quiet on the subject for so long — was she supposed to be the first to break the silence and make such an unexpected revelation right when things were so uncomfortable between them? Already she was afraid that just the news of Werther’s visit would hit Albert especially hard, let alone this disaster he couldn’t possibly expect! Was it really likely that he’d take this the right way, take it without judging her? Was it likely he’d really understand her feelings? And, on the other hand, was it okay for her to keep something hidden from her husband, with whom she’d always been as transparent as glass and from whom she’d never hid or could hide any of her feelings? Both options made her anxious and upset, and her thoughts kept circling back to Werther, who’d ruined his life for her, whom she couldn’t lose, who — ahhh! — who had to be his own problem now! — and who’d have nothing left if he lost her.

It was so painful for her now to recognize the rut that she and Albert had fallen into, which she hadn’t been able to recognize clearly at the time! Even people this reasonable and good start keeping things from each other around secret differences of opinion, each one thinks they’re in the right and the other’s in the wrong, and the relationship gets so twisted that it’s impossible to untie the knots even when it matters most. If warmth and intimacy had brought her and Albert together earlier, if there had been more love and understanding on both sides to unlock their hearts, maybe it still would have been possible to save our friend.

One more unusual factor was relevant. Werther, as we all know from his letters, had never kept it a secret that he wanted to die. Albert had often argued with him about it, and the subject had come up from time to time between Lotte and her husband. Albert, who felt a deep opposition to suicide, had even, often, with a kind of snappishness which was otherwise totally out of character, made it clear that he couldn’t take this ‘intention’ seriously at all; he’d even cracked a few jokes about it and shared his skepticism with Lotte. This did comfort her, in a way, when she started to worry, but, in another way, it made her feel like she couldn’t share these fears with her husband when they tortured her.

*          *          *

When Albert pulled in the driveway, Lotte ran up to meet him in an awkward rush. He wasn’t in a good mood, he still hadn’t closed his deal, and that branch manager had turned out to be an inflexible, small-minded man. The terrible roads had also made him grumpy.

He asked if he’d missed anything when he was away, and she answered, too quickly: Werther had come over the night before. He didn’t react, just asked if any mail had come in, and learned that a letter and some packages were waiting in his room. He went upstairs, and Lotte stayed by herself. The presence of the man whom she loved and looked up to had made a deep impression on her. Remembering his generosity, his love, and his goodness had calmed her down further. She felt a deep pull to follow him; she got her sewing and took it up to his room, as she’d been doing more and more lately. She found him busy unwrapping the packages and reading the mail. Some of the letters didn’t seem like especially pleasant reading. She asked him a few questions; he answered them curtly and sat down at his desk to write.

They spent about an hour like that together, and Lotte’s mood got darker and darker. She could tell how hard it would be for her, even if her husband were in the best mood, to tell him what was on her mind; she fell into a depression that only got more anxious the more she tried to hide her feelings and her tears.

Werther’s text message coming in threw her completely; she handed Albert his phone, and he turned casually back to her and said, “Get down the guns. And I’m texting him back… ‘Have a good trip!’” — That hit her like lightning, she staggered, standing up, she barely knew what she was doing. As Albert called up her oldest brother, she walked slowly over to the rack, shivering, she took down the guns, wiped away the dust and shuddered, and she would have hesitated even longer if Albert hadn’t pushed her on with a questioning look. She gave the dreadful things to her brother, totally speechless, and once he headed out with them, she packed up her sewing and went into her room in an inarticulate haze. Her mind kept flashing the most horrible scenes in front of her. For a moment, she thought of going to her husband and breaking down, telling him everything, what had happened the night before, her guilt and her suspicions. Then again, she couldn’t see how to stop this train — there was no way she could convince her husband to drive over and talk to Werther. Lunch was on the table, and a good girl friend of hers, who’d only come by to drop something off, was about to go — and then stayed, making the conversation at the table bearable; they made an effort, they talked, they told stories, they managed to forget.

*          *          *

The boy brought the pistols up to Werther’s room. Werther took them with delight, hearing that Lotte had handed them to him. He sent the boy home, ordered a sandwich online, and sat down to write.

“They went through your hands, you wiped the dust off them, I’m kissing them a thousand times, you touched them! The Spirit of Heaven approves of the “what” — and you, Lotte, you give me the “how”, you at whose hands I’d always hoped to die, and ahh! now I’m getting my wish. Oh, I practically interrogated your brother. You were shaking as you handed them to him, you didn’t say goodbye! — No! NO!!! NO GOODBYE!!! — could you really have closed your heart to me at the exact moment that ties me to you forever? Lotte, a hundred years couldn’t make that memory fade! And I can tell, you can’t hate the man who burns like this for you.”

After eating, he zipped up his suitcase, tore up a lot of his old notebooks, and went out and settled up a few more small debts. He came back home, went out again past the town limits, ignoring the rain, to the public garden he loved so much, wandered around the area again, and came back as night was falling and wrote.

“Will, I’ve taken my last look at earth and trees and sky. All my very best to you too! Mom, I love you — I’m sorry! Comfort her, Will! God bless you both! My things are all settled. Goodbye! We’ll see each other again in a happier place.”

“I’ve been unfair to you, Albert — I’m so sorry. I’ve disturbed the peace of your house, I’ve brought mistrust between you two. Goodbye! I’m going to end it. Oh, I hope my dying can make you happy! Albert! Albert! Make that angel happy! And God’s blessing will always be upon you!”

He went through a lot of his papers that evening, tore up a lot of them and threw them in the garbage, and taped up a number of boxes addressed to Will. They were full of handwritten drafts, scattered thoughts which I’ve seen a few of. Around 10 pm, he poured himself a glass of wine and called the front desk, asking them to come up to his room early the next morning to help with his bags; he was expecting a taxi at six.

Mortality

Room service found him writing when they brought him coffee the next morning. He added the following to his letter to Lotte:

“So this is the last time, the last time I’m opening these eyes. They’ll never — they’ll never see the sun again, a bleak, cloudy day is hiding it. Well, go ahead, Nature, mourn! Your son, your friend, your beloved is nearing his end. Lotte, there’s nothing like this feeling, but the closest thing is coming out of a dream — telling yourself: this is the last morning. The last! Lotte, I can’t wrap my head around that word: the last! I mean, I’m sitting here now, totally alive, right? and tomorrow I’ll be lying stretched out and limp on the floor. Dying! what does that mean? See, we’re clueless, when we talk about death. I’ve seen a lot of people die; but as humans we have such a limited sense of things that we can’t wrap our heads around our own beginning and end. And now mine — yours! Yours, oh my love! And for a moment — separated, parted — maybe for ever? — no, Lotte, no — how can I be gone? How can you be gone? We ARE! — “gone!” — what does that mean? That’s just a word again, an empty sound, that doesn’t mean anything real to me. —— Dead, Lotte! Stuffed into the cold earth — so cramped! so dark! — I had a girlfriend once, who made my stupid teenage life worthwhile — she died, and I followed her corpse and stood by the grave while they lowered the coffin in and pulled the ropes thrummingly out from under it, then dumped in the first shovel of earth, and the terrible box made a dull thump, then duller and duller, until it was finally covered! — I collapsed beside the grave — seized up, shattered, manic, shredded inside, but I had no concept of what was happening to me — what would happen to me — Dying! Grave! I DON’T UNDERSTAND THESE WORDS!

I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! Yesterday! I should have just died on the spot. Oh, you angel! For the first time, for the first time with no doubt at all, the joyful feeling glowed right through me: she loves me! She loves me! I can still feel, burning on my lips, the holy fire that flowed from yours — new, warm joy is in my heart. I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

Ahh, I knew you loved me, knew it from the first soulful glances, from the first hug, and still, whenever I was away again, or when I saw Albert by your side, I gave up again in anxious despair.

Do you remember the flowers you gave me that one time after that terrible party, where you couldn’t say anything to me, couldn’t reach out to comfort me? Oh, I spent half the night on my knees in front of them, and I felt so sure they proved you loved me. But — ahh! These certainties fade away, just like the sense of the mercy of God Almighty fades from the soul of the believer, even when it’s been shown to him with all the fullness of heaven in sacred, unambiguous signs.

But that’s all transient — no eternity will extinguish the glowing life that I tasted yesterday on your lips, that I feel inside me! She loves me! This arm held her, these lips shivered on her lips, this mouth trembled on her mouth. She is mine! You are mine! Yes, Lotte — forever.

And so what if Albert’s your husband? Husband! In this world — and so in this world it’s a sin for me to love you, for me to want to tear you out of his arms into mine? Sin? Fine, and I’m punishing myself for it; I’ve tasted it in all its heavenly bliss, that sin, I’ve sucked down healing and strength into my heart. From this moment on, you’re mine! Mine, oh Lotte! I’m passing on! Going to my Father, to your Father. I’ll cry to Him about it and He’ll comfort me until you come and I run over to you and take you in my arms and stay with you in His eternal gaze in your arms forever.

I’m not dreaming, I’m not crazy! This close to death, I’m seeing clearer. We will BE! We’ll see each other again! See your mother! I’m going to see her, I’ll find her, ahh, and pour out my whole heart in front of her! Your mother, your second self…”

Around 11 am, Werther texted Albert asking whether he was back from his trip. Albert wrote back, yes, he’d just driven back in. Then Werther texted him: “Hey, I’m about to take a trip — could I borrow your pistols like we talked about? Be well!”

Fiction

Lotte, meanwhile, had been thrown into a strange state. After her last conversation with Werther, it hit her how hard it would be for her to be separated from him, and how painful it would be for him if he had to go away from her.

One of them had mentioned in passing in front of Albert that Werther wouldn’t come back before Christmas Eve, and Albert had driven off to the next town over to see a branch manager he had some business with, where he was going to have to spend the night.

She sat by herself, now — none of her siblings were around — and she surrendered to her thoughts, which were quietly scanning her relationships. She’d made a lifetime commitment to her husband, who loved her and trusted her so much, she knew, and she was devoted to him from the bottom of her heart; his calm and detachment seemed like the perfect solid basis for someone as high-strung as her to build a happy life on. She could tell how good he would always be to her and their children. On the other hand, Werther had become so precious to her; right from the first moment they met it had been so beautifully clear they were on the same wavelength; everything they’d shared for so long, all the situations they’d lived through together had made an indelible mark on her heart. Any time she had an interesting thought or feeling, she was used to sharing it with him, and his going away threatened to tear a hole in her very self that would never be filled up again. Oh, if she could have turned him into a brother right then, she would have been so happy! If she could have set him up with one of her girl friends, she might even have hoped she could patch up his relationship with Albert!

She’d mentally gone through all her friends and found something wrong with each of them — couldn’t find one she would have given him to.

Thinking through all this, she felt deeply, for the first time, without quite spelling it out for herself, that, deep down, she really wanted to keep him for herself, and she tried to tell herself that she couldn’t keep him, didn’t get to keep him; her sense of inner peace, which was usually so easy and so easily self-sustaining, was weighed down by a sadness with no way out. Her heart felt squeezed, and her vision went blurry.

At that point, around 6:30 pm, she heard Werther coming up the stairs and immediately recognized his step and his voice asking if she was in. Her heart started racing as he approached — for the first time, it’s safe to say. She wanted badly to hide her feelings from him, and as he walked in, she called out to him, in a kind of manic confusion, “You broke your promise.”
“I didn’t promise anything,” was his answer.
“Well, at least you could have respected my asking you,” she countered, “I asked you for both our sakes.”

She didn’t really know what she was saying, or really what she was doing when she texted some friends to come over so she wouldn’t be alone with him. He set down a few books he’d brought back to return to her and asked about a few more, while she swung back and forth between wishing her friends would come and wishing they’d stay away. Her phone buzzed: neither of them could make it.

She called one of her sisters to come up, then told her never mind. Werther paced up and down the room; she went over to the piano and started playing a song, trying not to break down. She pulled herself together and sat casually next to Werther, who’d moved into his usual spot on the sofa.

“So what are we reading?” she said. He shrugged. “If you look in my email,” she began, “I’ve got your letter with your Wagner update/adaptation. I still haven’t read it yet, ‘cause I always hoped I’d hear you read it out loud, but so far that’s never lined up, it hasn’t worked out.” — He smiled, got her computer, shuddered as he pulled up the letter, and his eyes were full of tears as he glanced over it. He sat down and read.

ACT I, SCENE I
Night. A living room in a small house in the country. We can hear a blizzard roaring outside. Suddenly, SIEGMUND bursts in through the front door, which was unlocked. He holds the doorframe for a while, panting and looking around the room; he looks exhausted by some tremendous exertion, and we can see from his expression and body language that he’s being chased. When he sees that there’s nobody there, he closes the door behind him, staggers into the center of the room, and collapses onto the couch.

SIEGMUND
I don’t know whose house this is — but I’ve got to rest here.

He sinks down and lies there motionless for a while. SIEGLINDE comes downstairs; she thinks her husband has come home; then her expression changes, stunned, as she sees a stranger stretched out on the couch.

SIEGLINDE
Oh my god!
(Pulling back, to herself) Someone broke into the house and… he’s sleeping… He looks exhausted and beat up from travelling. Did he pass out? Is he sick?
(She bends towards him and suddenly jerks back.)
Still breathing… just… resting. Wow, he looks so strong, even lying there like that…

SIEGMUND suddenly jerks his head up.

SIEGMUND
Water! Water!

SIEGLINDE
I’ll get you a drink.
(She runs off and comes back with a glass of water.)
Here you go, nice and cold from the fridge — hopefully this’ll make you feel better…

SIEGMUND drinks and gives her back the glass. As he nods “thank you”, his gaze locks onto her face with increasing interest.

SIEGMUND
Thanks. That glass of water was a breath of fresh air, a load off my back… and you’re a sight for sore eyes. Can I ask who it is who’s being so nice to me?

SIEGLINDE
This is Hunding’s house and Hunding’s wife, so you’re Hunding’s guest. You should thank him. Will you stay till he comes home?

SIEGMUND raises his hands to show they’re empty.

SIEGMUND
Well, I’m not armed or anything, and I’ve already gotten shot once this evening, so… you guys have nothing to worry about from me.

SIEGLINDE
(panicking) You got SHOT?! Oh my god, can I call you an ambulance?!

SIEGMUND
Just grazed, just grazed, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I’m still in one piece! If my gun had held out as long as I did, I’d never have run, but it jammed up on me.
(Looking at her)
The whole mob of them chased me till I was drained, the storm-winds tore at my body; but tiredness just got away from me faster than I got away from the pack of them; all I could see was night — but now it’s sunrise again…

SIEGLINDE
Can I… can I get you a beer?

SIEGMUND
Will you taste it for me?

She goes offstage to the kitchen and comes back with a bottle of beer. She takes a sip and hands it to him. Siegmund takes a long drink, watching her with increasing warmth. He sets down the bottle, as his expression gets tenser. He sighs deeply and looks darkly at the ground.

SIEGMUND
Listen, you’ve been really sweet to me, but I’m… bad news. And I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.
He gets up and starts heading for the door.
This has been a lovely break. Thanks so much. I need to hit the road again.

SIEGLINDE
(standing up quickly) You’re leaving already? Who’s after you?

SIEGMUND, frozen by her voice, turns around again.

SIEGMUND
(slowly and darkly) Trouble follows me wherever I go; trouble’s on my heels whenever I sit down. I don’t want it coming after you, so… the farther I am from you, the better.

He walks quickly towards the door and takes the handle.

SIEGLINDE
(losing control and calling after him) Then stay here! You can’t bring trouble to the house where trouble lives.

SIEGMUND stands still, deeply moved. He looks deeply at SIEGLINDE’s expression; she blushes, ashamed, and looks down. A long silence. SIEGMUND steps away from the door.

SIEGMUND
(shaking her hand) I go by “Misery.” I’ll wait for Hunding.

He sits back down on the couch; his gaze focuses on SIEGLINDE with calm, intense sympathy; she slowly looks back up at him. They look at each other during a long silence with deep fascination in their eyes.

SCENE II
SIEGLINDE jumps suddenly, hearing HUNDING pulling up in his car outside. She walks quickly to the door and opens it; HUNDING, wearing a holster with a large pistol, walks in and stops in the doorway when he sees SIEGMUND. HUNDING turns with an intense, questioning look to SIEGLINDE.

SIEGLINDE
I found him passed out on the couch; he had to come in, it was an emergency.

HUNDING
You’ve been taking care of him?

SIEGMUND
(staring calmly and steadily at HUNDING) If it weren’t for her, I’d be freezing to death out there. Are you really going to call her out for that?

HUNDING
(ominously) My house. My rules. Remember that.

He takes off his gun belt and hands it to SIEGLINDE

HUNDING
(to SIEGLINDE) Where’s dinner? Us men are hungry.

SIEGLINDE hangs the gun belt on a peg near the door, then goes to the kitchen and starts setting the table and serving food. She can’t help looking at SIEGMUND again.

HUNDING
(looks hard at SIEGMUND’s face, then back at his wife’s; to himself) He looks so much like that girl! He’s got that same glittering snake gleaming in his eyes…
He hides his surprise and turns, deliberately casually, towards SIEGMUND.
The next town isn’t for a couple miles, and I didn’t see a car outside. What had you out on foot on a night like this?

SIEGMUND
Just running, running through forests and fields, on-road, off-road, trying to get away from the storm and a… bad situation. Honestly, I don’t know how I got here or where I am — I’d be happy to know, if you wouldn’t mind telling me.

HUNDING
(heading for the table and gesturing SIEGMUND to a chair) Well, the guy who owns the roof over your head and the walls keeping you safe, his name is Hunding — and that’s me. And right now, you’re in my house. There’s a town a few miles west of here. Got a lot of family there. All the really nice houses you’ll see down there — probably my cousins. (pause) So, you gonna tell me who you are?

SIEGMUND, sitting down at the table, looks off thoughtfully into the distance. SIEGLINDE, who has sat down next to HUNDING, across from SIEGMUND, stares at him with obvious sympathy and curiosity.

HUNDING
(watching both of them) If you don’t want to tell me, tell the woman here. Look at her, she’s just dying to know!

SIEGLINDE
(unselfconsciously and compassionately) I’d love to know who you are, stranger.

SIEGMUND looks up, meets her gaze and begins earnestly.

SIEGMUND
I can’t go by “Sunny”, I’d love to be “Smiles”, but “Misery” is the only name that fits. My dad was called “the Wolf”; I was born as one of a pair — my twin sister and me. But pretty soon I lost my mom and my sister — the woman who bore me, and the woman she bore with me. I barely even knew them.
The Wolf was a fighter, a tough guy. He made a lot of enemies. One day, when I was a little boy, I went out hunting with him, and when we came home from trapping and shooting… the wolf’s den was empty. Our beautiful house, burned to cinders… my brave mother’s body, battered to death… every trace of my sister, burnt up in the fire. The mob wanted to teach us a lesson. So my dad and I went on the run. I spent a lot of years in the woods with the Wolf. They came hunting for us plenty of times; but the Wolf Pack knew how to take care of itself.
(turning to HUNDING)
You’re hearing it straight from the little wolf’s mouth — and a lot of people know me as Little Wolf.

HUNDING
These are some fucked-up, scary stories you’re telling us! Some guest… “Misery” the “Little Wolf”! I’ve heard of the Wolf Pack — not great stories, either… though I’d never met “the Wolf” or “Little Wolf”.

SIEGLINDE
But keep going — where’s your father now?

SIEGMUND
Eventually the mob really came after us. The Wolf Pack took down a lot of hunters, and we chased our prey hard through the woods. But I got separated from my dad; I lost his trail… and, no matter how long I looked for him, all I found was the wolf-paw he used to wear around his neck, caught on a branch in the woods. And I never found him.
I couldn’t stay in the woods after that. I felt so drawn to people. But no matter how many I met, wherever I went, whether I tried to make new friends, or girlfriends, I was always cast out: I was a magnet for trouble. If I thought something was right, everyone else thought it was wrong; whatever I thought was evil, other people said was good. I got into fights wherever I wound up, anger met me wherever I went; I was starving for happiness, and all I could do was stir up misery: that’s why I have to go by “Misery”, because misery is all I’ve got.

HUNDING
Sounds like even your guardian angel hates you. And you’re not the kind of guest people look forward to hosting…

SIEGLINDE
(to HUNDING) He’s unarmed — you’re not afraid of him, are you?

A cathartic flood of tears, streaming out of Lotte’s eyes, interrupted Werther’s reading. He threw the laptop aside, grabbed her hand and started weeping bitter tears. Lotte collapsed onto her other hand and hid her face in a tissue. Both of them were so moved it was terrifying. They felt their own misery in the situation of the characters, felt it together, and their tears merged. Werther’s lips and eyes were burning on Lotte’s arm; she shuddered violently; she wanted to pull away, but pain and sympathy lay paralyzingly on her like lead. She took a few deep breaths to recover and asked him, sobbing, to continue, asked him desperately! Werther shivered, his heart was ready to burst, he picked up the laptop again and read, his voice breaking:

SIEGLINDE
(to SIEGMUND) You’re our guest. Keep going — how did you end up in a fight and lose your gun?

SIEGMUND
(getting more and more worked up) I got a call from a girl in tears, asking me to help her: her family was forcing her to marry someone she wasn’t in love with. I showed up at her house, and… things escalated fast. A whole crowd of them tried to jump me, it turned into a huge fight, and in the end… I was standing, her brothers were lying dead on the ground. The girl started hugging their bodies; she was so upset, she forgot she’d been angry at them. She started crying like crazy over the carnage, she called up her cousins screaming her brothers were dead. A whole crowd of her relatives drove up with guns, looking for payback. Bullets started flying, but the girl wouldn’t get out of the crossfire! I covered her as long as I could until my gun jammed. I stood there, wounded and weaponless — I watched the girl get shot to pieces: the mob outside was battering down the door — she was lying there dead on the corpses…
(with a gaze full of painful fire at SIEGLINDE)
There, happy? Now you know why they don’t call me “Sunny”!

SIEGMUND stands up and walks over to a window. SIEGLINDE turns pale and looks down at the floor, deeply shaken.

HUNDING
(standing up, very darkly) I’ve heard of a vicious gang who think nothing is sacred; everyone hates them, and so do I. I got a call today from some relatives looking for revenge, payback for a murdered cousin: I got there too late, and now I get home and find the fucker who did it sitting at my dining table. — You’re safe here tonight, Little Wolf, you’re my guest. But tomorrow, you better find yourself a gun. I’m telling you now. I’m going to make you pay for those deaths.

SIEGLINDE steps between the two men with an anxious gesture.

HUNDING
(harshly) Get out! What are you hanging around here for? Go get me a beer and wait till I come to bed.
(taking his gun belt down from the peg. To SIEGMUND) Not such a big man without a gun, are you?
(As he exits) See you tomorrow, Little Wolf. You heard me — You’re going down.

These last few words hit Werther with full force. He collapsed in front of Lotte in total despair, grabbed her hands, pressed them against his eyes, against his forehead, and a hint of his terrible plan flashed through her mind. She felt dizzy, she squeezed his hands, pressed them against her chest, leaned down with a sorrowful movement towards him, and their burning cheeks touched. The world disappeared around them. He threw his arms around her, pressed her to his chest and covered her shivering, trembling lips with furious kisses. — “Werther!” she yelled in a choked voice, pulling away, “Werther!” and weakly pushed his chest away from hers; “Werther!” she yelled, more firmly, feeling how wrong this was. — He didn’t resist, let her out of his arms and collapsed, his mind blank, in front of her. — She jumped back, and in frightened confusion, teetering between love and anger, she said, “That’s the last time! Werther! You’ll never see me again.” And with the deepest loving look at the poor guy, she rushed into the next room and locked herself in. — Werther reached out for her as she was going, didn’t dare to hold her back. He lay on the ground, his head on the sofa, and he stayed in that position for half an hour until a noise snapped him out of it. It was one of Lotte’s sisters coming in to set the table. He paced up and down the room, and once he was alone again, he went to the door between them and called in a quiet voice: “Lotte! Lotte! Say something! Say goodbye?” — she stayed silent. — He waited and pleaded and waited; then he tore himself away and called, “Goodbye, Lotte! Goodbye for ever!”

He headed back to town. The weather kept shifting between rain and snow, and it was 11 pm by the time he buzzed back in at the hotel. The receptionist noticed, as he came in, that he was missing the hat he’d gone out wearing and that his hair and clothes were drenched, but she didn’t say anything. Later, the hat was found at the top of a rock face whose peak looks down into the valley, and it’s incredible that he managed to climb up there, on a dark, wet night, without falling.

He lay down in bed and slept a long time.

Starting the Note

That morning, Monday, December 21st, he started the following letter to Lotte, by hand, which was found after his death in a sealed envelope on his desk and delivered to her. I’d like to insert various passages from it at certain points where they shed light on the circumstances under which he wrote them.

“Decision’s made, Lotte, I want to die, and I’m writing you this without any romantic exaggeration, detached, on the morning of the day I’m going to see you for the last time. By the time you read this, darling, the cool earth will already cover the stiff corpse of this restless fuckup, who can’t imagine a sweeter way to spend the last moments of his life than talking with you. I had a terrible night, and…weirdly… a soothing night. It’s what put the seal on my decision, locked it in: I want to die! Tearing myself away from you yesterday, in such a horrible blur of anger, everything came rushing in and it hit me so hard, with sickening coldness, just how hopeless and joyless being near you has been — I barely made it to my room, I threw myself, in a frenzy, on my knees, and, oh Lord! You granted me the final unction of the most bitter tears! A thousand options, a thousand outcomes raged through my soul, and finally it stood there, firm, whole, the one final thought: I want to die! — I went to bed, and this morning, in the calm of awakening, it’s still standing firm, still totally strong in my heart: I want to die! — it’s not despair, it’s certainty that my time’s up, and that I’m sacrificing myself for you. Yes, Lotte! Why not be open about it? One of the three of us has to go, and I want it to be me! Oh, my darling! So many times the idea has slithered into this shredded heart — to kill your husband! — you! — me! — all right, then! — when you hike up into the hills, on a lovely summer evening, remember me, the way I always used to come up from the valley, and then look over towards the cemetery at my grave, while the wind rocks the grass back and forth in the glow of the setting sun. — I was calm when I started this… now… now I’m crying like a baby, I can see it all so clearly…”

Around noon, Werther took a shower, got dressed, and started settling his accounts: he called the front desk and told them he’d be leaving on a trip in a few days, started packing all his clothes in his suitcase, texted people asking them to return books he’d lent them, PayPaled the various acquaintances in town he’d borrowed money from, and set up recurring payments to some of the artists and charities he sometimes donated to.

He ordered in for lunch, and after eating he biked over to see the D.A., who turned out not to be home. He walked moodily up and down in the garden, as if he wanted to pile all the pain of remembering onto himself one last time.

The kids didn’t leave him alone for long — they chased after him, jumped up on him, told him how tomorrow, and then tomorrow, and one more day, they’d get Christmas presents from Lotte, and described for him all the most amazing presents their childlike imaginations could dream up. “Tomorrow,” he cried, “and then tomorrow, and one more day!” — and kissed them all tenderly and was about to leave them, when the youngest one said he wanted to whisper something in his ear. He revealed that the older brothers had bought beautiful New Year’s cards, so pretty! And one for Daddy, for Albert, and one for Lotte, and one for Mr. Werther too; they wanted to present them early on New Year’s morning. That was too much for him, he gave each of the kids a bit of money, got on his bike, told them to say hi to their dad for him, and rode away with tears in his eyes.

He got home around 5 pm, turned on all the lights, and continued packing, laying his clothes and books at the bottom of his suitcase and his coats on top. This is also probably when he wrote the following paragraph in that final letter to Lotte:

“You’re not expecting me! You think I’m going to obey you and not see you again until Christmas Eve. Oh, Lotte! It’s now or never. On Christmas Eve you’ll hold this page and your hand will shake and you’ll soak it with your darling tears. I’m going to, I have to! Oh, I feel so good now that I’ve made up my mind.”

Breaking the Silence

What was going on in Lotte’s mind at this point — what her thoughts might have been about her husband, about her unhappy friend — is something I’m almost uncomfortable making any claims about, but, given some knowledge of her personality, I think it’s possible to have at least a rough idea, and I think every one of us has a sensitive, feminine side we can tap into and use to think our way into her head.

This much is certain: she’d made a firm decision to get Werther to leave, whatever it took; and if she hesitated, it was out of a heartfelt, caring desire to spare him, because she knew how hard it would be on him — almost impossible for him, even. But at this point she felt like she had to stop putting it off; her husband was following her lead and not bringing up her relationship with Werther, and that only put more pressure on her to prove through her actions that she deserved that kind of trust from him.

On the same day that Werther wrote the letter to Will that I posted this morning, the Sunday before Christmas, he went to see Lotte in the evening and found her alone. She was busy wrapping a couple of toys that she’d bought as Christmas presents for her younger siblings. He talked about how much fun the kids would have and reminisced about those days when suddenly opening a door and seeing a tree all decorated with Christmas lights, candy-canes, and ornaments was so thrilling.

“Well, you know,” Lotte said, hiding her awkwardness behind a cutesy smile, “you’ll get something nice too, if you behave.”
“What does that mean, ‘behave’?” he exclaimed. “What should I do? How do you want me? Ahh — Lotte!”
“Thursday evening,” she said, “is Christmas Eve, that’s when we’re having the party with the kids and my dad, that’s when everyone gets their presents, so you should come too — but not before then.” Werther froze. “Please,” she went on, “just this one time, I’m asking you for my sake, for my own sanity, this can’t — this can’t go on like this.”
He looked away from her and walked up and down the room and muttered that phrase, “This can’t go on like this,” through his teeth.
Lotte, who could see what a terrible state these words had thrown him into, tried all kinds of questions to sound out what he was thinking, but nothing helped.
“No, Lotte!” he yelled, “I’ll never see you again!”
“What — why not?” she asked back. “Werther, you can totally — you have to see us again, just get a grip on yourself! Oh, why do you have to be so intense, why do you have to latch on so crazy passionately to everything you ever get into? I’m begging you,” she said, taking his hand, “get a grip on yourself! You’re so smart, you know so much about everything, you’re so talented — you have so many ways to be happy! Just — shake it off! Get over this hopeless obsession with someone who can’t do anything for you except feel bad for you.” He ground his teeth and looked at her darkly. She squeezed his hand. “Just think clearly for like a second, Werther!” she said. “Can’t you tell that you’re fooling yourself, that you’re destroying yourself and you know it? Why — why ME, Werther? Me of all people, when I’m TAKEN? Is that why? I worry, I worry it’s just the unavailability, that nothing could ever happen with me, that makes this fantasy so attractive for you.”
He pulled his hand out of hers, looking at her with a hard, defiant stare. “Wise!” he yelled, “so wise! Let me guess, did ALBERT say that? Deep! Oh, that’s deep!”
“Anyone could say it,” she shot back, “and you really think, in the whole world, there’s no one out there who could make you happy? Snap out of it, get out there and look, and I promise, you’ll find someone; ‘cause it really scares me, for your sake and for ours, how much you’ve cut yourself off from everyone this whole time. Snap out of it! A trip will — I mean, it has to take your mind off things. Get out there and find someone who’s worth all this attention, and then come back, and we can finally be happy together as actual friends.”
“That’s great,” he said with a cold laugh, “you should be writing an advice column. Lotte, just, give me a break for a while, it’s all gonna be fine!”
“But seriously, Werther, don’t come back before Christmas Eve!” —

He was about to answer when Albert walked in the room. They all exchanged very frosty “Good evening”s and started fiddling with their phones. Werther launched into some meaningless topic and trailed off pretty fast; Albert did the same, and then suddenly started grilling his wife about some specific chores he’d assigned her, and, when he heard they weren’t done yet, said a few words to her that struck Werther as cold, even hard. He wanted to leave, couldn’t make himself, and hesitated until eight, as his scorn and resentment grew, until they set the table for dinner and he got his coat and boots. Albert invited him to stay, but Werther, taking it as an empty gesture, thanked him coldly and headed out.

He got back to his hotel, almost knocked over the doorman on his way in, went up to his room, wept loudly, talked to himself in fits and starts, paced violently up and down the room and finally threw himself fully dressed onto his bed, where the maid found him the next morning around eleven when she went in to ask whether he wanted the room cleaned. He let her clean up but ordered her not to come in again any other morning until he called the desk.

December 20

Thank you for the love you show me, Will, in taking that phrase and running with it like that. Yes, you’re right: I should just go. I’m not a huge fan of your idea of my coming back to you guys… at very least, I’d want to do some kind of road trip on the way, especially since it’s barely snowing and the roads are clear. And it’s also very sweet of you to offer to come pick me up here; just give me another two weeks, and keep your eyes open for another letter from me with the details. You don’t want to pick a fruit before it’s ripe, right? And two weeks more or less can make a big difference.

Please tell my mom to pray for her son, and that I hope she forgives me for all the embarrassment I’ve put her through. I guess I was just meant to make life hard for the people I should be making happy.

Be well, dear friend! Heaven shine all its blessings on you!
Goodbye!

Dark Thoughts

This is around the time, coming off last week’s events, when the decision to die got more and more concrete in Werther’s mind. Since he’d come back to Lotte, he’d always seen it as his ultimate way out, but he’d always told himself it shouldn’t be a rushed, impulsive act; he wanted to take this step with total certainty, with as calm a resolve as he could.

His doubt and his internal struggle stand out in one fragment in particular, which is probably the beginning of a letter to Will and which I found in his drafts folder.

“Just seeing her, what she’s going through, her sympathy with what I’m going through — it squeezes the last tears out of my dried-out skull. Lifting the curtain and stepping behind it! That’s all! And why all this shaking and uncertainty?! Because we don’t know what it looks like back there? And you can’t come back? And that it’s pretty much the nature of our spirit to project confusion and shadows onto things we don’t know anything defined about”

In the end, he got more and more alienated and attached to this sad idea, and his decision became more and more irrevocable, as another letter he wrote to his best friend testifies. I’ll post that tomorrow.

December 14

What’s WRONG with me, Will? I’m fucking terrified of myself! My love for her is totally platonic, right? Like a brother? Have I ever had the smallest inappropriate feeling about her? — hmm, methinks the lad doth protest too much — and now DREAMS! Calling Dr. Freud! Whoo, don’t bother! Last night! I’m shuddering, typing this — I held her in my arms, pressed her hard against my chest, and covered her mouth with endless kisses as she whispered she loved me; my eyes swam in the drunkenness in hers! God! Is it wrong of me that I still feel so good, feeling that warm, blissful memory inside me again? Lotte! Lotte! — and I am GONE! My senses are all tangled up, for eight days now I haven’t been able to think straight, my eyes are full of tears. I feel terrible all the time, and I feel great all the time. I don’t want anything, don’t need anything. I should… I should just go.